Lisa Vazquez: Gravity

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Photo courtesy of Meleah Shavon Photography

Lisa Vazquez is a singer, emcee, instrumentalist, and producer. In 2017 she released a 5-track EP titled “Gravity” that showcased all of her talents. Recently she’s garnered attention for her YouTube series “Flip it Friday” where she chops up samples and makes beats on the spot. Lisa will be displaying her skills to a live audience at the 2019 Soundset Festival.

Soundset takes place on Sunday, May 26, 2019 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The event will have four stages featuring performances by artists like Lil’ Wayne, G-Eazy, DMX, Black Star, SZA, Run the Jewels, and Atmosphere among others. Soundset will also pay tribute to all of Hip-Hop’s elements with emcee battles, a B-Boy and B-Girl invitational, and live graffiti.

Lisa Vazquez will perform on the Essential Elements stage alongside DJ’s and producers like Just Blaze, Spinderella, DJ Abilities, and Cut Chemist, to name a few.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Lisa Vazquez about her upcoming performance at Soundset, her Flip it Friday series on YouTube, and her upcoming album, Anomalisa.

TRHH: How did you initially get into production?

Lisa Vazquez: I was a musician for ten years or so playing percussion and background vocals mostly. I also did some singer/songwriter stuff where I was playing guitar and writing songs that way. Playing in bands I never really felt like I had full creative control. I got into audio engineering. I went to school for that to learn how to do the production side of things and from there I branched off and learned how to make beats. I started off actually doing live looping stuff. I had a TC Helicon Looper and a drum sampler. It was just drums and my vocals looped to make a beat. I did vocals and rapped over the beats I made. Once I found the MPC I was like, “That’s the thing,” [laughs]. That’s where I’m at right now. I use Ableton when I’m using a computer, but I try to step away from the computer as much as possible so in my live sets I can utilize just the MPC and not bring a computer.

TRHH: What is your musical background? You mentioned percussion, but did you play other instruments?

Lisa Vazquez: First off, I started with hand percussion. I used to play ceramic drums and congas. I guess drums were my first love. I had a kit for a really long time. I loved playing the kit, I miss that, actually. I think that’s primarily where I started off musically. Singing kind of came along with that. That’s why I tried to integrate the guitar, because playing drums and doing vocals there’s nothing melodic to go off of necessarily. I play keys as well. I picked up bass in the last couple of years and that’s helped a lot with my production. To answer your question, drumming is where it all started.

TRHH: On your Gravity EP you rhymed, sang, and produced. Which of those talents did you develop first? Would that be singing?

Lisa Vazquez: I would say it was drumming first. With the singing I always liked to do it, but I was way shyer about it than I was with drums. With drums I felt freer always. The confidence in playing in front of people and being expressive with drumming was much easier than vocals. With vocals, that came in time. I’ve been trying to develop my vocal skills for twenty-plus years now. I’d say in the last five years I’ve come into my own where I’m not cringing every time I hear a playback of something [laughs]. I’ve gotten way more comfortable and I’d say live looping helped a lot with that, because when you’re looping I’m harmonizing with myself and if I’m off pitch just a little bit it plays back over and over and over, so you really learn how to fine tune your harmonies with that.

TRHH: I became familiar with you through your Flip It Friday series on YouTube where you flip samples and make beats on the spot. How did you come up with the idea for Flip It Friday?

Lisa Vazquez: With social media and stuff I was struggling with what I should post. I didn’t know what I should put out there all the time. I noticed a couple times just putting out videos in my natural environment just doing stuff that I’m doing anyway, people liked to see that. I came up with the little idea for Flip it Friday. It sounds catchy and it’s something I’m doing on a daily basis — finding samples and starting the bare bones of a song. It took me a couple of years or so to get that into motion. That’s where the idea started.

People like to see the rawness of creativity. A lot of people put their finished products out there and that’s great to see, but there is a certain relatability seeing the rawness of the whole thing. People relate to it more. It’s like you’re more human [laughs]. Rhythm Roulette is something I watch regularly and get really inspired by. I see artists that I really look up to in their little cave and I’m like, “Oh, that’s kind of like what I do.” It helps inspire people more to see it and they’re like, “That’s me. I make mistakes. I’m not all polished all the time.”

TRHH: You mentioned the MPC and I noticed that you use Akai equipment. One thing that surprised me was the slice as you go feature. I have an old MPC 2000XL and you can’t really do that. How helpful is having that option in simplifying your workflow?

Lisa Vazquez: It’s so nice. That was one of the things that made me fall in love with the Live was that feature. Being able to have the onboard storage that you don’t get with some of the older MPC’s and the touch screen. The slice as you go thing really cuts out a lot of time. As artists we get frustrated because such a large percentage of creating is trouble shooting. It holds a lot of people back from getting their ideas out there. With Live being able to do that is extremely helpful.

TRHH: What’s your favorite MPC?

Lisa Vazquez: I really love the 1000. Mine is broken right now. It could be very easily fixed, but I keep forgetting to take it in. There are a few buttons that are messed up. That’s the thing that’s so frustrating about these older machines is one button breaks and that messes up my whole set. You can’t do anything. The bank A-B-C-D keys and the arrow keys are the ones broken on mine. I can’t do anything. But, when it works it works great. There are even some things on here that I kind of prefer over the Live. I think it’s partially because I got used to it the way that it was and there are slight differences with the Live. They tried to make it so anybody that used any of the older machines could easily transition. Even the projects that I have on my 1000 can transfer onto the Live which is really, really nice.

TRHH: Have you ever gone to MPCstuff.com?

Lisa Vazquez: Yep. I have a white skin on my Live and that’s where I got that from.

TRHH: Okay, I was going to say you could get buttons and stuff there. I recently had to change the pad sensors and it kind of sucked [laughs]. I did it, but I would rather pay somebody else to do that next time.

Lisa Vazquez: [Laughs] But you probably saved a grip of money by doing it by yourself.

TRHH: I did, but it sucked [laughs]. Okay, you’re on the board of a non-profit called Friends of Noise. What’s your role there and how did you become involved with that group?

Lisa Vazquez: The main founder, Andre Middleton, is someone I met just playing shows around town in Portland. He’s a huge advocate for trying to introduce the world of music to youth groups. I feel like there are a lot of youth groups that teach music itself, but what he’s trying to do is teach the industry. He’s trying to teach how to do sound, book venues, and the business aspect of it, which I think is really cool. It’s a little bit overlooked for both youth and adults, but if you learn that stuff at a younger age you’re going to be a well-equipped independent artist. He reached out to me after he’d seen me doing a bunch of stuff around town. He was like, “Hey, you want to be a part of the board?” I was like, “Sure!”

Sometimes I do workshops and I try to promote the events that they’re doing. Mostly what they do is when they have events they’ll have several youth performers. They’re trying to create more all age’s venues in town. He gets grants from all over and we’ll book out venues to make them all ages to give an opportunity for the youth performers to play out. Most venues everywhere are 21 and over, so these kids don’t have an opportunity to share their creativity. It’s great because it helps them to have an outlet. It’s not about partying or drinking or anything like that. It’s about sharing their creativity and learning. It’s a very cool organization.

TRHH: What does it mean to you to perform at Soundset this year?

Lisa Vazquez: It’s huge for me! Ever since I learned about the festival I always thought it was the prime Hip-Hop festival in the country, other than A3C, but that’s more of a conference type of thing. It’s a one day event and it’s put on by Rhymesayers. I always had my sights set on it. I tried to contact whoever I needed to contact. It took me a while, but it’s huge for me. I’m very, very excited about it.

TRHH: Is there anyone on the bill that you’re excited to see just as a fan?

Lisa Vazquez: Absolutely. Black Star I’m very excited about. SZA, Run the Jewels, and on the stage that I’m playing at we have Just Blaze, Spinderella, Cut Chemist, and DJ Abilities. I’m a fan of a huge number of people that are on the bill. Joey Bada$$ is going to be there, Sa-Roc.

TRHH: Have you collaborated with other artists that are performing there?

Lisa Vazquez: I haven’t collaborated. Just Blaze was one of the judges for the Goldie Awards that I was a part of this past year. We’ve kept in contact since then and been a part of a couple other events. As far as making contacts and building that way, yes. As far as collaborations, I’m hoping that this is going to spearhead some things. There are definitely people on my list that I would love to collaborate with that are on this bill. Those things are the kinds of things that will happen in time if they’re supposed to happen. I try to not get too in my head about all that, but I’m just really grateful to be a part of it.

TRHH: What do you have in-store for the fans at Soundset?

Lisa Vazquez: It’s going to be a mixture of instrumental stuff with vocals. I’m probably going to have at least one guest vocalist. There’s this girl Kelly Mak who is a really dope rapper, she’s probably going to be a guest on my set. I’m going to try to build it more like a DJ set and keep the beats kind of short so I can maximize the time that I have on the stage. I’m going to really showcase everything that I can do. I’m going to sing, I’m going to rap, and bring the hardest beats I can bring and show ‘em what I got [laughs].

TRHH: If you could produce an entire album for one emcee who would it be?

Lisa Vazquez: Ooh, that’s a tough one.

TRHH: Give me a couple.

Lisa Vazquez: Sa-Roc would be one. I know she’s mostly working with Sol Messiah right now, but I’m a fan of hers. Method Man and Raekwon, and anybody in the Wu-Tang Clan, obviously. I’m a huge fan. I want to be the female RZA. I draw a blank on these kinds of questions and my head explodes thinking about people I want to work with [laughs].

TRHH: Is RZA your favorite producer?

Lisa Vazquez: Definitely one of my favorites. As far as sounds that I naturally gravitate towards I love dark, eerie, older folk kinds of sounds. Definitely Japanese folk stuff I’ve been really drawn too and other instrumentation that’s really dark and eerie. People have mentioned that before when I’ve posted beats like, “Oh, this is a RZA vibe!” I’ll take it [laughs]. I’m definitely a fan, but people like Exile have that raw, underground, boom bap kind of sound, Black Milk, J Dilla, of course. Oddisee is another one that I’ve definitely been a huge fan of as far as being on the production and vocals end of it – it’s really inspiring. It’s always evolving who I’m inspired by.

TRHH: You have an album coming out in the fall called Anomalisa; why that title?

Lisa Vazquez: I had two titles that I was deciding between that are still possibilities. Nocturnal Sun was the other one that I’m going to be working with, but that just might be one of the track names. I like the idea of Anomalisa because of the word “anomaly” being in it. It’s kind of what I feel like sometimes because I don’t really meet many other female producers that also sing and rap. Even when there is that kind of trifecta going on it’s in a little different genre – doing kind of what I’m doing with a little more of the 90s classic Hip-Hop style, I just don’t really know very many. That’s kind of where that idea was born. I’m just trying to come at it from all angles, showcase all the different things that I’m doing, and showing that I can stand alone. I love to have feature artists, vocalists, and rappers on my stuff, but I can also do it on my own.

Purchase: Lisa Vazquez – Gravity

Purchase tickets to the 2019 Soundset Festival

About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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